With the New York Jets releasing running back Michael Carter and veteran running back Dalvin Cook averaging just 3.1 yards per carry on 47 attempts this season, Israel Abanikanda has a path to playing time.
Abanikanda, who was selected by the Jets in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft earlier this year, likely won’t be a feature back in the near future, not with star running back Breece Hall already in place, but Abanikanda could very well emerge as a complement to Hall this season.
While Abanikanda has not been active during any of the Jets’ nine games this season, with Carter now off the roster, Abanikanda rises into that No. 3 role behind Hall and Cook. And there’s a chance that Abanikanda will make his NFL debut as early as this weekend now.
Abanikanda, once activated, should be able to serve as a third down back and special teams ace as he adapts to life in the NFL. But he did look ready in the preseason.
He was an All-ACC, All-American running back in 2022, serving as perhaps the best all-purpose weapon in college football, finishing fourth in all-purpose yards (1,805 yards) and second in all-purpose yards per game (164 yards) in college football last season. And he led the nation in total touchdowns (21).
He rushed for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging six yards per attempt and added 146 receiving yards and 228 kickoff return yards. It was a campaign with few historical rivals. It ranks as the eighth-best single-season effort in Pitt history, and his 320 yards and six touchdowns against Virginia Tech broke and tied, respectively, single-game program records.
In his Pitt career, Abanikanda rushed 390 times for 2,177 yards and 28 touchdowns, caught 38 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns and returned 19 kickoffs for 434 yards and a touchdown.
His 28 career touchdowns also rank eighth in team history, while he’s just one of four Pitt players to rush for at least 20 touchdowns in a single season.
The Jets will be back in action on Sunday, Nov. 19, a 4:25 p.m. kickoff at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo, N.Y. to take on the Buffalo Bills — who had Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin in the lineup over the weekend.